Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mixology Monday - 'Broaden your horizons'

Mixology Monday is hosted today by A Mixed Dram, the theme is 'Broaden your horizons.'

So this is my first Mixology Monday and as I am not of bartender background I do not feel I have the knowledge or authority to write about this from a cocktail perspective so instead I'm going to write about how I am broadening my horizons in terms of learning how to bar tend properly with Jake Burger. 

I have worked with Wines and Spirits for the last 17 years, the last 7 being with the highly accoladed Martin Miller's Gin and although I can tell you about marketing strategy, event planning, distribution I've always left the art of cocktail making to the professionals
even to the point of being able to travel with Martin Miller's Gin own mixologists. One of my new year's resolutions for 2009 was to learn how to make drinks properly, I feel that as a brand person its a very important, and sometimes lacking, part of our education.

One very late night in New York with Jake, amongst other animals, we hatched the plan that I would start to bar back for him in the New Year and learn the art of making drinks and bar tending. In my opinion there are two key elements to being a great bartender, firstly the ability to make tasty well balanced drinks and secondly and most importantly the ability to 'chat' to your customers and make sure that every part of their experience at your bar is positive.

Let me firstly tell you about Mr Jake Burger. I first met Jake in Leeds about 4 and a half years ago, it was just before he opened Jake's Bar on Call Lane. I have spent many an enjoyable night at Jake's Bar, it's one of those bars that is a time bandit and before you know it the sun is coming up. Actually I have now realised that it isn't Jake's Bar, its Jake, the man himself that has this affect. 

Jake started his career in 1992 working at a bar called Ikes Bistro which at the time was the only proper cocktail bar in Leeds. The first drink he ever made was a 'Transplant' made up of gin, Bacardi, creme de menthe, orange juice and pineapple (don't try that one at home). He is pretty much self taught but over the last 17 years he has won numerous cocktail competitions including the Smirnoff Penka 'perfect cut' diamond competition, Blantons bartender of the year, Leeds Guide bartender of the year, Belvedere 2nd place in world final and most importantly Elements 8 Rum Pina Colada King!

There is also now the Portobello Star, his London home. This opened in November 2008 and has fast become a big industry hang out as well as local haunt of Notting Hill locals. 

My first lesson with Jake was on a quiet Tuesday evening. As we are often drinking partners we had agreed that the first few lessons would not involve any drinking (unless educational). We started off by cleaning all the bottles on the back bar, Jake instructed me that its important I know something about each product in his bar. We got through Gin, Vodka, Liqueurs, Tequila, Vermouth and bitters in about 3 hours. Jake is a bit of yoda when it comes to bitters and has an extremely rare bottle of Bokers bitters and Abbotts bitters. I learn all sorts of interesting facts about both much loved brands and new brands and realise some home study will enhance my knowledge. I'm also there to generally clear up and watch Jake make drinks. I think it will be a number of weeks before I'm let loose with a cocktail shaker but am looking forward to lesson no 2 next week. Jake is a great teacher and is the right combination of fun and interesting, if only all my teachers had tried teaching me lessons from behind a bar.

The only question I ask myself is why I didn't get behind the bar earlier? I think it is an essential part of my drinks industry education and would encourage all brand people to broaden their horizons in this way.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


So I find myself at 5.30am on a fairly chilly Tuesday morning pulling into Covent Garden Fruit and Veg market, I somehow had always romanticised this place, kind of expecting the scene from My Fair Lady where her father is singing ‘I’m getting married in the morning’ through a Victorian Covent Garden market. The reality is a little different but fascinating none-the-less. I was lucky enough to be invited by those clever guys from Soulshakers to visit the market to learn all about their new venture Soulfruits.

One of the many things we take for granted when sitting at a bar ordering a cocktail, or I do anyway, is the many different components and ingredients that make up my gimlet or daiquiri. Fruit obviously plays a very important part in many cocktails and how that fruit is prepared and the quality has a big impact on the taste of the drink. In the same way I care about the quality of the spirit as the base of my cocktail I also should care about the fruit.

Soulshakers do around 25 big events/festivals per year ranging from Glastonbury to small independent parties. They use fruit, at all of these events and a lot of fruit too. They estimate that last year they spent around £35,000 on fruit.

All great ideas and business connections normally start with a social interaction, Giles Looker of Soulshakers plays cricket and about 9 months ago met Andreas Georghiou playing cricket. Andreas has been in the fruit and veg business for around 20 years and being that Soulshakers use a lot of fruit they started to buy it through Andreas. After a particularly heavy weekend of fruit buying for an event, they realised that they might be missing a trick and started to investigate with Andreas the possibility of creating a premium fruit supplier to cocktail bars in London.

Despite the early hour the market was actually closing for that day’s business. They start at midnight. I walked around the many different stalls chatting to the fruit ‘dealers’. The Soulshakers guys knew everyone and who had the best mangoes, limes, grapefruits. They had clearly been on a steep learning curve and I gleamed a small amount of their knowledge. The best limes normally come from Mexico in terms of colour and yield but Brazilian ones are very juicy too although sometimes on the light side. We tried some delicious mango that had ripened on the tree rather than on the boat and was therefore 3 times more expensive but also three times more tasty. The best strawberries come from Egypt generally and strawberries stop ripening as soon as they are picked. I’m always a little concerned that the strawberries that I buy in UK supermarkets seems to last forever and are almost indestructible.

I also met Dennis who had the best grapefruits and I will be chatting to him some more about pineapples (I have a thing about pineapples but that will be another blog).

Now like the rest of their business model, Soulshakers don’t want to take over the world, they want to continue doing what they do to the best of their abilities. Whereas other companies may over extend themselves too quickly, Soulshakers have always worked within the parameters of enjoying what they do and making sure they execute to the highest standard, this rings true of the ethos behind Soulfruits.

So towards the end of last year they formed Soulfruits between the 3 Soulshaker guys, Giles, Michael, Kevin and Andreas. They want to be able to provide a premium fruit supply business to a select no of bars that care about the quality of their fruit and also offer alternative ranges for those who are more quality focused than cost.

They are aiming for 20 – 25 accounts, they already have Mahiki (Papa Jules was with us picking out his fruit for the day), Quo Vadis and potentially the Match Group.

Giles said that they want to provide a real personal service and connection with each account, rather like mixers and ice before them, they are aiming to be the premium end of the fruit supply business.

Soulfruits also supply squeezed juice to order and I visited the squeezing lab, where the great and the good spend the whole night squeezing limes, lemons etc… This is not some big stainless steel commercial machine squeezing line, these guys do it on domestic squeezers by hand, again this ensures the best quality although Michael (Butt) still advocates hand squeezing on the premises for cocktail bars. I suggested that for naughty bartenders who misbehave at the festivals this year this should be their punishment, a night on the squeezing line, so watch out!

From reading through their bumf, they have 3 kinds of pineapples, 4 kinds of grapefruits and 3 different Clementine’s. They will also send out a weekly fruit report to their customers, with market prices, harvest information and provenance.

Ordering is simple, just call them on 0208 995 0140 or fax them on 0208 747 0274 before 5am to receive your order that day, you can also email them They 
will soon have SMS too.